The Tom DeLay resignation

Posted: Apr 06, 2006 12:05 AM

To paraphrase Richard Nixon, Democrats won't have Rep. Tom DeLay to kick around anymore.

DeLay's announcement that he will resign from Congress before the November election came in the wake of his former deputy chief of staff pleading guilty to conspiracy and corruption charges. Tony C. Rudy has told federal prosecutors about a criminal enterprise of influence-buying he claims was run out of DeLay's office. DeLay has denied any knowledge or involvement with the alleged scheme and is reportedly "disappointed" by those on his staff who let him down. DeLay says he's quitting so he won't be an issue in the election and in order to preserve his 22nd District congressional seat in Texas for Republicans. He says he will continue to work to preserve the Republican majority and advance conservative causes.

There is a tendency for people on the receiving end of indictments or allegations of questionable behavior to say, "Oh yeah, well let's not forget what the other guys did when they were in power." DeLay has been the target of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who has publicly called DeLay names. Earle has also invited a documentary filmmaker to record his movements and statements in the DeLay case, which ought to be unethical, if not illegal.

After 40 years in control of the House of Representatives, Democrats are hardly in a position to tell Republicans to get the speck out of their eyes before Democrats deal with beams in their own. One recalls a statement by then-House Speaker Jim Wright in 1988 about a book that was a cut-and-paste job of Wright's speeches, which he sold to political cronies with Wright pocketing the proceeds. After Common Cause filed an ethics complaint in the House, Wright issued a press release charging, "Common Cause has made itself the handmaiden of a partisan political initiative."

The list of Democrats who have been forced to resign, been indicted or impeached, or had their ethics challenged, is long. The Web site lists several ethically challenged Democrats of recent vintage. In the last few days, Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia has not only found herself the subject of attention for allegedly assaulting a Capitol police officer after he tried to make her go through a metal detector (she was not wearing her congressional members pin), but she also admitted using office money, in violation of strict House rules, to fly musician Isaac Hayes to an Atlanta event. Her office announced she would reimburse the government for that trip. The alleged assault incident has been referred to a federal prosecutor.

All of this is beside the point. Ethics should not be a matter of how many indictments were handed down (or averted), or how close one can get to the edge of the law without violating it; neither should it be about score-carding the opposition and declaring one party more honest than the other because more of them have been forced to resign, or gone to prison than members of one's own party.

DeLay may well be innocent of all charges against him, as he says. But even if he is acquitted, the Washington political culture, which turns supposed public servants into career politicians, should be indicted. Too many people come to Washington with delusions they can "change the system." But many become like those ionic breeze devices. They begin to attract dirt from their surroundings. The seduction of power causes them to lose focus and begin to serve themselves first and the country second, if at all.

Voter disapproval of Congress remains high for this and other reasons. Republican voters are venting their anger on radio talk shows. They say Republicans are behaving like the Democrats they replaced. They are appalled at the record debt and refusal of President Bush to veto a single piece of spending legislation. They are even more outraged over the increased federal spending on education and a drug-entitlement measure.

Term limits for Congress is the answer, not phony changes in ethics rules that are easily ignored, or circumvented. The problem with term limits, though, is that members of Congress would have to approve them and too many seem too ethically challenged to do that.